‘An open-ended check’: Alderman balks at lack of details as U.S. Colored Troops Monument plans approved by council

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, January 25, 2023

NATCHEZ — A request from the Natchez U.S. Colored Troops Monument committee to approve its final site and monument plans and allow it to begin applying for grants to help fund the monument turned controversial when Sixth Ward Alderman Dan Dillard insisted on knowing how much money the city would be asked to spend on the monument.

Robert Pernell, chairman of the monument committee, said he could not answer Dillard’s question.

“All we are trying to do is get the board of aldermen to sign off on it before we start applying for major grants and going to foundations,” Pernell said. “We have to have approval from the political body that it is OK to do this. We have started looking at foundations and major grants because that’s what it’s going to take, but right now we are at a standstill until the board of aldermen makes a decision.”

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“We just need to know, will the city be expected to provide matching funds for grants, or will the city be expected to provide contributing funds for construction other than the in-kind stuff for utilities and things we are able to do within our capabilities? Are you asking the city or will the city be asked to provide matching funds or funds for any needs toward this effort,” Dillard asked.

Pernell again said he could not answer Dillard’s question. He said the monument committee has just begun to look at grants and foundations and did not know exactly what grants would require, if anything, in terms of matching funds.

“That would depend on the grant itself,” Pernell said. “Quite frankly, I would expect the city to do something.”

“Frankly, I was led to believe this was a private effort and the monument would be paid for by funds generated from the private sector,” Dillard said.

“I think that’s what I just said in terms of grants and foundations, but you asked me what would the city have to put in and I can’t answer that question. In the end, it depends on where we are in fundraising,” Pernell said.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson attempted to bring the discussion back to the question being asked of the aldermen, which was to approve the design of the monument.

“This is not a discussion on funding. All those are pertinent questions, yes. But it’s really too early to answer all that,” Gibson said.

Ward 3 Aldermen Sarah Carter-Smith said the aldermen, if they were asked by the monument committee to help provide matching funds for any grant, would have an opportunity to make that decision at a later date.

“We don’t ever have to approve any grant,” Carter-Smith said. “Any grant would be presented to us and if it gets the votes, it’s approved. But there are a lot of foundations and a lot of avenues for money they are going to be looking at.”

Dillard continued to argue that the board needed to know right then exactly what money the city would be asked to put toward the monument.

“I disagree with that and I think it’s the responsibility of the board of governing authorities to know what it is getting into and what it is expected to contribute. It could be considered an expense or a percentage of an expense, but that’s an open-ended check, Mr. Mayor, and I don’t think I can support that.”

“I don’t believe we are being asked … the motion is simply to approve the design,” Gibson said.

The mayor said the aldermen needed to limit discussion to the motion that had been offered, which was to approve the design of the monument and its location.

“You mean you are going to limit any meaningful discussion,” Dillard said.

The motion passed by a vote of 5 to 1 with Dillard casting the only vote to not approve the design and site of the U.S. Colored Troops Monument.

“Think about the revenue this will bring into the city,” Pernell said. “People are going to want to come here and see it. This is not a marker somewhere. It’s a monument, and the city will get the tax and other revenues from those visitors. It’s not like we are going to develop something and let the city pay for it. That’s why we have been so methodical on how we present this, the professionalism that’s gone into it. That’s what the major foundations and grants want to see, that we have put a lot of thought into it.”